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Atze Kerkhof of Team Redline: 'Max is an extreme talent in the sim also'

Published on 27 February 2024 by FORMULE 1 Magazine

This article previously appeared in FORMULE 1 Magazine, on pole for thirty years! For more news on Max Verstappen and Formula 1, visit
Author: Laurens Stade

Max Verstappen has been involved with Team Redline for several years. Team manager Atze Kerkhof (36) played a major part in Max joining the outfit that has the best virtual drivers in the world in its ranks. “He takes the team in tow”, says Kerkhof, who states the triple Formula 1 champion has had a big impact since joining.

Simracing is booming, but the simrace community has been around for a while. Atze Kerkhof, Team Redline team manager, started simracing as a youngster and was able to generate some income from it. “Back then, you could race for money in Simraceway. Every driver put in some money and the winner could win all the contributions. It was a fun way to earn something. I was basically racing all day and earning money. It meant I didn’t have to work too much during my student days.”

Kerkhof realises his talent and soon he is competing against the best drivers in simracing. He moves from team to team, taking every new challenge in his stride. “Every time you join a good team, you quickly learn and you go up a level without really realising. The same happened to me.”

After winning the world championship, Team Redline have Kerkhof firmly in their sights, with the Dutchman joining in 2012. He represents the team as a driver but is keen to step up into a management role.

Kerkhof wants to bolster the team and because of his work in the sim at Van Amersfoort Racing, he has found the perfect candidate: Max Verstappen. “I was really involved in the simrace training sessions at Van Amersfoort. They had build a new simulator to train their drivers. I would set benchmark lap times for the drivers. When Max drove for the team, we spent a lot of time in the sim together and we battled a lot in preparation for his Formula 3 races. That’s how we got to know each other.”

Verstappen, who made his Formula 1 debut for Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2015, wanted to continue sim racing. “He just really enjoyed racing at home so I offered to join Team Redline. I explained to Max that Team Redline operates as a gated community, which meant nobody would bother him online. For him it’s a great cordoned off online space for him to do his thing.”

Successful preparation
When Max left Van Amersfoort Racing, Verstappen and Kerkhof continued collaborating in the sim. They tested on the virtual Formula 1 circuits. A famous example of a successful session in the sim is Verstappen’s overtake on Felipe Nasr on the outside of Blanchimont in 2015. “I’m not sure if it’s because we practiced, but the fact remains we tried that corner 200 times and we tried an overtake 200 times, so that’s funny”, reflects Kerkhof.

Initially Max does not race for the team. Team Redline, an active presence on iRacing, a platform on which drivers compete as themselves, knows Max is well known which can lead to a lot of interaction online. “It was so chaotic back then that we kept him out of those races deliberately. It wasn’t until four or five years ago that he really started racing online and did it under his own name. After that, things progressed rapidly.”

From the start, it was clear that Verstappen wasn’t just quick in real life. The character traits he shows in Formula 1, are visible on the virtual circuits. “He always beat me with cunning and clever moves. The threat drivers feel when he shows up behind them, is something he does in the simulator too. It’s a special talent he’s had from day one.”

Extreme talent
Verstappen prefers to contest long distance races when simracing. He has driven in the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Bathurst 12 Hours. As a full-time Formula 1 driver, he does not have a lot of time to practice, but that doesn’t pose a problem according to Kerkhof. “When Max jumps in the car, he’s fast. He’s usually quicker than 99% of the competition. If he has a bit of time to work on the set-up and put some hours in, then he is in the top three in the world. Sometimes he’s just the fastest in the world, in an eSports world in which there’s no limit on talent, practice time, unlimited access to data and the analysis of it. Max is an extreme talent in this also.”

Team Redline can only occasionally rely on Verstappen’s services, with the Red Bull driver manoeuvring through a busy diary. But when he does join, it gives the team a boost. “He takes the whole team in tow, when he has the time”, says Kerkhof. “If he could, he’d drive all day to find little things and to help. That’s something special about him: he is always up for explaining things, to go through a set-up and to push and motivate. It’s a really special characteristic of him.”

In addition, Verstappen’s real life experience comes in handy too, admits Kerkhof. Sometimes, team members can lose a bit of motivation if the results aren’t great of if the Balance of Performance doesn’t work in the team’s favor. “A lot of the problem scenarios we encounter, Max knows from ‘real’ life. He is able to give and example to really carry the team. Together with that experience and his status, it’s a real motivation. He really rallies the troops. We know that when he has the time, he drives more than anybody else. He is more motivated than anyone else in the team. That’s a talent too.”

The set-up master
One of Kerkhof’s strong points is his ability to create good set-ups. His experience and knowledge as an engineer is crucial. Up until a certain level, Kerkhof is able to feel the changes to a set-up, but once he can’t, Verstappen shows up. “He can still jump in when you’re working on small details in the suspension, such as an extra click in camber or toe-out. He would still feel those changes. He’s better than anyone in the team in this area. He can with all these minor adjustments still find two tenths in the car. Once he is done with the set-up, and you drive the car yourself, you think ‘He’s done it again, we’re two tenths a lap quicker’. He really has mastered that skill.”

Kerkhof sees the same in Formula 1: “Max can communicate where the balance needs to be. And if it all comes together, he is able to extract so much more out of the car. The gap to this team mate is then often a bit bigger too.”

Team Redline is not dependent on Verstappen for the cars’ set-up, but the team value the Dutchman’s input. “In the real world, it’s an advantage that you only have a few moments to give accurate feedback” realises Kerkhof. “Max is trained in using only a few laps to get a clear picture of what the car needs to go quicker. He is programmed that way. He brings the same to simracing. He has a different approach. Instead of making random adjustments, he always drivers with purpose. Every adjustment has a purpose. He is very efficient.”

Non-disclosure agreements
Unlike Diogo Pinto, Max Benecke and Jeffrey Rietveld, Verstappen does not have a contract with the team. Max has become more of an ambassador than a driver. “Of course, Max competes for Team Redline, and he’s become the spearhead, but he doesn’t have a contract as we don’t want and can’t expect things from him.”

The reason the other drivers do have contracts is partly due to the fact that they are in the team with a world famous driver like Verstappen. The contracts contain non-disclosure agreements as well as the financial details. The drivers regularly compete for money, which for many simracers is their main income. Verstappen is in a different position. “Max has never taken any of the prize money, it always goes to the team. He’s really generous when it comes to that”, says Kerkhof. “Of course it’s not huge amounts, but Max is not in it for the money.”

Since last year, Team Redline is contesting in a different livery as it’s under the Racing banner, a project set up by Max. His father Jos and Thierry Vermeulen, the son of Max’s manager Raymond, are part of it. Red Bull is now also a sponsor of Team Redline. “Max would’ve never done this if he didn’t have a good feeling about the team. It’s a sign of his trust.”

“The last couple of years, we’ve invested a lot to make Team Redline a professional organisation. We have a nice head office with simulators. It was already perfect, but now it’s all in Team Redline style”, Kerkhof says. “These things have come together with Verstappen’s help. We’ve put in a lot of time, passion and love and that’s why you get these result. It’s a really close collaboration.”

Atze Kerkhof, the simpioneer
Atze Kerkhof (36), is born in Ulrum, the Netherlands. From a young age, Kerkhof is obsessed with racing, but this passion takes a back seat when the Dutchman focusses on a career in speed skating. Due to injuries, he is unable to compete for months and he gains an interest in simracing, particularly the technical side of things catch his attention. Kerkhof quickly immerses himself in all things set-up and because of his love for analysing, which has its origins in short track speed skating, he develops into one of the best simracers in the world. Although he has stepped up into a management role, he still drives the simulator regularly. In addition, he is also a driver performance consultant at the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team.

More than simracing
Team Redline operates at the highest level in simracing and they work hard for their success. Behind the scenes, it is about more than just a team of professional simracers. “It’s become a real tight group of friends. The simracers get on really well with Max and they visit him at the track”, explains Kerkhof.

All the team’s communication is blocked from the outside world, which means the drivers can be themselves and they can talk about stuff outside simracing. “We talk about a lot of things, other racing categories, simracing and the normal things in life, parties etc. Everything is discussed, but behind the scenes. It’s really a big virtual group of friends that communicate daily.”

Max’ best simrace ever
When asked about Max’ best simrace, Kerkhof doesn’t hesitate: Bathhurst 12h. “He was out of this world, it was rediculous how fast he was.” During qualifying, Max managed to complete a lap of Mount Panorama in 2:00.726, four tenths quicker than anyone else. “It was just perfect, clean and stupidly fast. Even if I trained for half a year, I wouldn’t be able to set that time. Together with his teammate, he destroyed opposition of the highest level. I think that was his most impressive race in the sim world.”

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